Thursday, December 15, 2011

Totakashtakam - Music for Healing

Totakashtakam - Music for Healing Ft. Jaya Vidyasagar, Rishi S for Sonore Unison

Whenever I sing or listen to this chant , I can visualize Dawn ,the hues of pink and blue breaking through the dark night sky , chirping birds, the serenity and peace of that Godly hour. Even without understanding the lyrics, it works its charm through your heart and soothes it.

But there is a beautiful history to this chant.

was one of the chief disciples of Adi Shankara.

It is said that
when Adi Shankara was at Shringeri, he met a boy named Giri. Adi Shankara accepted the boy as his disciple. Giri was a hard-working and loyal servant of his Guru, Adi Shankara, though he did not appear bright to the other disciples. One day, Giri was washing his Guru's clothes, when Adi Shankara sat down to begin a lesson on Advaita Vedanta. He however did not start the lesson saying he was waiting for Giri to come back from his chores. At this, another disciple Padmapada pointed to a wall and said that it would be the same if Adi Shankara taught to this dumb object as he taught to Giri. Now, Shankara wanted to reward Giri for his loyalty and devotion. Thus he mentally granted Giri the complete knowledge of all the śāstras (sciences). The enlightened Giri composed extempore the Totakashtakam, Sanskrit verses , in praise of the Guru Adi Shankara.

The metre he has used in this composition is the difficult but beautiful totaka. Hence he was given the name Totakacharya. Every word of this exquisite hymn bespeaks the utter devotion of its author to Shankara. Shankara, the Guru, is all to him. There is nothing equal to the Guru; nothing superior to him. The Guru is the dispeller of the darkness of ignorance. There can be no greater good than the removal of ignorance. The spirit of devotion of the disciple is best expressed in the soul-moving burden of this song : Be Thou my refuge, O Master, Shankara (bhava Shankara deshika me sharanam)!

Thus due to the grace of the Guru, Giri became a 'knower' of all scriptures, and he earned the respect of Padmapada and other disciples He became one of Shankara's four most important disciples, and was later entrusted with running the Jyotirmath at Badari.

The Script with the translated meaning goes as follows:-

||तोटकाष्टकं ||

The TotakAShtakam has been composed in the toTaka meter, in which each pAda (quarter) has four sa-gaNa's. Here a sa-gaNa is made up of two short syllables followed by a long one. The hymn naturally lends itself to be set to music.

विदिताखिलशास्त्रसुधाजलधे महितोपनिषत् कथितार्थनिधे | हृदये कलये विमलं चरणं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||१||

O knower of the nectar-ocean of the scriptures, the expounder of the knowledge of the great upanishadic treasure! I meditate on Your pure lotus feet in my heart | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

करुणावरुणालय पालय मां भवसागरदुःखविदूनहृदम् | रचयाखिलदर्शनतत्त्वविदं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||२||

Save me whose heart is afflicted by the misery of the ocean of births, O (You who are) the ocean of compassion! (By Your grace) make me the knower of the truths of all the systems of philosophy | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

भवता जनता सुहिता भविता निजबोधविचारण चारुमते | कलयेश्वरजीवविवेकविदं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||३||

The people have found happiness due to You, who have the intellect adept in the inquiry into Self-knowledge | Make me understand the knowledge of God and the soul | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

भव एव भवानिति मे नितरां समजायत चेतसि कौतुकिता | मम वारय मोहमहाजलधिं भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणं ||४||

You are Lord Shiva Himself | Knowing this my mind is filled with an abundance of joy | Put an end to my sea of delusion | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

सुकृते | अधिकृते बहुधा भवतो भविता समदर्शनलालसता | अतिदीनमिमं परिपालय मां भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||५||

Only after numerous virtuous deeds have been performed in many ways, does a keen desire for the experience of Brahman through You arise. Protect (me who am) extremely helpless | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

जगतीमवितुं कलिताकृतयो विचरन्ति महामहसश्छलतः | अहिमांशुरिवात्र विभासि गुरो भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||६||

For the sake of saving the world, (Your) great (disciples) wander assuming various forms and guises | O Guru, You shine like the sun (among them). O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

गुरुपुंगव पुंगवकेतन ते समतामयतां नहि को | अपि सुधीः | शरणागतवत्सल तत्त्वनिधे भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||७||

O Best among the Gurus! The Lord whose flag bears the emblem of the bull! You have no equal among the wise | You who are affectionate to those who seek refuge! The treasure of truth! O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

विदिता न मया विशदैककला न च किंचन काञ्चनमस्ति गुरो | द्रुतमेव विधेहि कृपां सहजां भव शंकर देशिक मे शरणम् ||८||

I have neither understood even one branch of knowledge clearly, nor do I possess any wealth, O Guru | Quickly bestow on me the compassion which is natural to You | O Preceptor Shankara, be my refuge.

My memory of this chant goes back to 2002, when I had the privilege of presenting this song in the presence of the former Prime Minister of India, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and his cabinet ministry in Delhi for a function commemorating the Kanchi Shankaracharya's 50th year of ascending the Peetham.

I had set it to tune basing it on an early morning Raaga, Bhibhas(of the Bhairav thaat).

A very big thank you to Rishi S, without whose help , this chant wouldn't have shaped up so beautifully. His arrangement and mixing has given a serene meditative feel to this divine shloka. Thank you Rishi, privileged to have an excellent friend like you-in all respects! :)

Composed and rendered by - Jaya Vidyasagar

Mixing and Arrangement :- Rishi S

Record Label :- Sonore Unison


  1. Very neatly put, n the meaning of the sanskrit phrases are lucidly explained. Peaceful indeed. Jai Gurudev. Let the darkness be dispelled.

  2. God bless you Jaya.Soulful rendition.
    Yogini Maa

  3. Biswajeet - Thank you! :) Jai Gurudev!

    Yogini Maa - Thank you so much Pujya Maa, blessed to hear from you, thank you for your time and blessings :)

  4. Blissful singing in your divine voice, Jaya. Lovely composition by Rishi. Listening again this morning, it really has a calming effect.